As I was indicating, however, things have not progressed toward a negotiated agreement between the pilots and Air Canada. Indeed, after the first meeting with the mediators, I received a notice, unfortunately, from the external mediator assigned to the file to indicate that she was resigning. She wrote this:
I should also mention to you that I am very surprised that the first session of mediation has been made public by ACPA in its entirety. It is a well known ground rule that mediation is a confidential process. Failure to observe confidentiality will not help the resolution of the dispute and will make it impossible for a mediator to function effectively as a neutral.
Air Canada tabled a final offer to the pilots union on March 8, 2012. The ACPA issued a press release stating that while Air Canada pilots would vote on this final offer from their employer, the association recommended that the pilots reject the offer and send the message to their employer to get serious about negotiations. On that same date, Air Canada advised that it intended to lock out the pilots as of March 12 as well.
I would like to be clear on this: Resorting to a work stoppage is not the norm for labour disputes in Canada. There are over 300 collective agreements negotiated in the federal jurisdiction each year and over 94% of these are settled without a work stoppage ever taking place. These agreements would not have been reached without the good faith efforts of the parties involved. It is also important that employers and the unions carefully consider maintaining the strength, viability and competitiveness of their company while continuing to work closely together to negotiate a deal, because work stoppages and labour instability can only lead to long-term impacts on the future of their company, on job prospects, on Canadians and the economy as a whole.
I have personally seen cases where this commitment at the table has provided results. As an example, the ILWU decided early in its negotiations with the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association that it did not want a work stoppage to occur. It understood that it could result in a loss of jobs for its members, and it also understood the importance of the Pacific gateway to the economic prosperity of the country. Both sides remembered throughout their negotiations that the economic health of their companies was of vital importance, and this helped the parties work together to reach two historic eight-year agreements.
When parties commit to working together co-operatively and keep the shared interests of both workers and the business as their foundation for all decisions, strong labour–management relations and lasting collective agreements are the result. The bottom line is that negotiated agreements do work.
The best and longest-lasting solution to any labour dispute occurs when the parties resolve their differences together without a strike or a lockout. However, there are cases where the parties are just too far apart to reach this compromise. These are cases where concessions on either side will be deemed just not enough because of the longstanding history of disputes, because of economic factors or for a variety of reasons that we hear today. In situations where there is no resolution in sight, where work stoppages are being proposed and the lives of Canadians and the health of the economy will be directly affected, the government must act and that is why we are proposing legislation to prevent these work stoppages.
I truly believe in the right to free collective bargaining and I would prefer in every case to see labour disputes resolved by the parties involved and not by government intervention. The federal government only intervenes in situations where the public interest is seriously threatened. This is true, for example, when the national economy could be adversely affected by the threat of a work stoppage. Unfortunately, that means we need to pass this bill to avert a work stoppage at Air Canada. Therefore, I am asking for this House to support Bill C-33, An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations.
Last June, there was a three-day strike by Air Canada's customer sales and service agents and I am glad to say that it was quickly resolved by the parties and that the harm caused to Canadians was limited.
Also in 2011, our government introduced and passed the Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act because of the crucial economic importance of reliable mail delivery. I should mention that this legislation was supported by hon. members on the other side of the House, who also saw the potential danger to our economy of the threatened work stoppage. Again, Canadian workers and businesses, as well as citizens in general, were spared the continued hardships that an interruption in the mail could cause.
Today we are facing the prospect of work stoppages at Air Canada that would damage our economy. Once again, we have to take extraordinary measures. Just as it did last year, the spectre of a strike or a lockout at Air Canada is causing confusion and doubt where we need stability and certainty. I would ask the members in the House to ask their constituents or in fact anyone in Canada right now and they will hear what I have been hearing, that we cannot afford a work stoppage. It is that simple. The risks are too great and we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to act.
Let us talk a bit about the risks of a work stoppage. I have referred the matter of maintenance of activities to the Canada Industrial Relations Board because there is the possibility that health and safety issues could be created by a work stoppage. The CIRB will review each case independently and determine if a work stoppage would pose a threat to the safety or health of the public, and if so, it can issue orders that would compel Air Canada and the unions to continue services to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public during a work stoppage.
While the CIRB is considering the case, the parties are prevented from proceeding with a strike or a lockout, but once a decision is made a work stoppage could still occur. We cannot let this happen. That is why our government is introducing this bill, to prevent a work stoppage and compel the parties to accept binding arbitration. We are not happy about bringing this legislation forward, but this measure is necessary because vital interests are at stake.
As I said before, as parliamentarians we have to take a stand on the issue. We need to take a stand for Canada's economy, Canada's businesses and for Canadian citizens.
Like other industrialized economies around the world, Canada is coming out of a difficult recession. Our government is proud of its record of sheltering Canadians from the worst effects of this downturn. We have laid the foundation for recovery. However, the economy remains fragile and we know that our country is not immune to the problems affecting greater nations. There could always be more turbulence, but our government is committed to taking the necessary actions to protect Canadians, to create jobs and to lay the foundations for long-term growth.
As of March 2012, our unemployment rate stood at 7.4%, a definite improvement over last year and considerably lower than the rate in the United States of 8.5%. More people are working now than before the recession hit. However, to maintain our progress and promote economic growth we need to be careful. We cannot afford to have labour disruptions in this major Canadian industry. A labour stoppage in this key sector of our economy would be a serious impediment to recovery and growth. A prolonged work stoppage at Air Canada could negatively affect our economy. Indeed, estimates of the overall impact of the stoppage on the Canadian economy vary, but some put it as high as $22.4 million for each week of work stopped.
Consider what this could mean to businesses. A work stoppage at Air Canada would mean the loss of sales at home and abroad. Even a short work stoppage could be costly. To give members an example, in 2005 a one-day wildcat strike involving ground crew workers at Air Canada in Toronto led to 60 flights being delayed and 19 being cancelled. That was only a single day. If we let another work stoppage happen, thousands of Canadians will be affected directly or indirectly because there is more at stake here than the issues on the bargaining table.
The employees represented by the ACPA and IAMAW want to be treated fairly. They demand respect for their rights under the Canada Labour Code, and I understand that. The code does give the parties in a dispute the right to strike or to lock out, but Canadians have rights too. Therefore, I ask my fellow members to stand up for the rights of Canadians and pass this bill.